Earlier today,I was delighted to give the opening keynote for day 2 of GMIT‘s Digital Education Week. Despite not being able to all meet in person in Galway, it was fantastic to be able join so many people from across Ireland and the UK and be part of the event.
For my talk I wanted to reflect on what we have all experienced in the past year of living and learning through a global pandemic. To use the luxurious position of a keynote to ask some questions about our lived experiences, and what we need to think about going forward. I wanted to reflect on words like isolation, self isolation,solitary, quarantine. These words that are so commonplace now, but pre-pandemic were not really part of our everyday discourse and vocabulary.
What really struck me about the quotes I used at the start of my talk about solitude and being alone (and many others I didn’t use) is how out of time and context they seem right now. In all of them, there is a sense of almost noble sacrifice to solitude. Solitude is necessary for great (artistic) work. It’s as if they all had to justify the right to be alone, to be solitary to achieve greatness, and an enhance sense of self worth. In our present day context, that seems to me like a very distant, privileged concept from a bygone era. Enforced solitude is quite a different experience, as we all now know. It’s been hard enough to get out of bed sometimes, never mind reach the great heights of getting dressed!
The realities of living, working and learning from home are bound as much by our physical spaces as our digital ones. I used some of the recent work of Professor Lesley Gourlay to explore this a bit more and talk about the entanglements of our phsyical and digital worlds, and the assemblages we have had to create to “be” at university. Today I thought I might stand to give the talk ( I don’t do much standing these days, do you?) so I created my own assemblage of a lectern using an ironing board, and some boxes. All a bit meta, but actually it work so I might do that again!
The session was recorded so I will add a link to that when it is available, but in the mean time you can view my slides including feedback from participants here.
And here is a screen shot the wonderful sketch note of the talk by Maia Thomas.
As we enter March this year, it is hard to believe that it’s almost been a year since we went into lockdown. Although we start this March with a bit more optimism particularly around vaccines, despite what many people want to think, “this” isn’t over yet. Over the weekend Auckland went back into a 7 day lock down.
I think this should sent a warning to us here in the UK. We have been no where near as successful as New Zealand in containing the spread of COVID-19. Yes, we are doing really well in terms of vaccine roll out, but that’s not a cure, there is still a lot of research to be gathered around the longer term impacts of the vaccines, their longevity and actual impact on transmission and suppression. Despite what many want to think, I don’t think we’ve seen the end of lockdowns.
As we prepare to move out of the highest levels of lockdown, schools here in Scotland have already started their phased return, and think about moving back on campus, the natural temptation is to plan for more face to face teaching, for that return to “normal”, to the spaces and places we’ve all missed for the last year. To bring our communities of learning back together in the “real” world.
However, I think it might be an idea to consider how to deal with short, sharp lockdowns and taking a what I’m calling a RAFT (rapid and flexible teaching scenarios) approach to design.
There is something in my head about a life raft metaphor too with this. Online learning has provided lots of learning life-rafts but there is the overwhelming desire to get back on to dry land. But as the lockdown in New Zealand (and there have been similar ones in other cities/countries) has shown we might have more shorter, local, lockdowns to come. So how can we deal with that?
Well maybe by simply by asking: could this activity/assessment/module be completed if we had to go back into lockdown at short notice? Are all the resources available online? Have I got at least 4 weeks teaching prepared in advance? Do students have clear signposting and support around what they are expected to do and where they should do it? Have I got established communication channels to let students know of any changes at short notice? Not rocket science, and a lot of this is already in place, so it would be tragic to loose what has been learned over the last year and just go back to “normal”. Let’s move forward with truly blended, flexible approaches.
I’m doing a short keynote/vision talk next week at the Digital Learning in the Pandemic and Beyond half day conference. The event has a focus on “looking at the practicalities, possibilities and potential pitfalls of online learning”, and has a great line of speakers looking at blended learning, copyright and accessibility.
I’m giving the opening talk and I think it is even more challenging right now to come up with something visionary, yet realistic given our current context. Just going to a conference is a wholly different contextual digital and material experience than from a year ago. We have gone through a radical change not just in education but across all aspects of our lives. I was struck by a quote in an article I read last week about not giving up hope taken from a 2014 paper on Climate Change,
There is no doubt we have lived and continue to live in states of uncertainty. When schools/colleges/universities will fully open is just one of our current “known unknowns” – we have dates but nothing is certain.
We have experienced a radical change in the delivery of education. Arguably this might not have quite as much an impact on radically changing our education system for the future in the calls to “get back to normal” , but it has raised wider societal questions around the cost of data, equitable access to online learning, and the the limits of mobile devices for learning and teaching.
In an attempt to get a bit of community feedback before the event I put out a tweet yesterday asking people to share what if anything they had done since lockdown that they felt was radical in their teaching and learning. Thanks to everyone who responded.
From changes in access such as ports being opened so it was much easier to move in an out of institutional spaces, to making mix tapes for students to listen to as they explore resources, to creating OERs with students, to making more videos for students, to exploring with different design spaces, to getting access to more commerial courses, to choose your own adventure assignments, to using more creative pedagogies it was a very small slice of lots and lots of changes that could be having quite radical impacts on learning and teaching. I’ve collated all the responses into a wakelet shared below, but if you want to share something then please do leave a comment.
Now I am aware that some may not think of any of these as being “radical” but radical change can often be incremental starting with self awareness and having the agency to change the way you do things and look at the world. As we move forward I do think it is going to be really important to have some extended conversations between students, staff, management, government and our wider communities about what we really need to develop in order to develop our education systems to deal with the more uncertainty in equitable, open and accessible ways. And that is the kind of radical hope we all need in these uncertain times.
Maybe it’s just the time of year, maybe it’s just the context of this year, maybe it’s just a sign of age, but I am finding myself getting more and more nostalgic as various online services “pop up” reminders of what I was doing at this time, last year, 2, 4 ,5, 7 years ago. This time last year I was still travelling across the country to run workshops . . .
BYOD4L was always a brought a bit of focus and fun to gloomy January’s past. The structure of the event was based around the 5 c’s – connecting, communicating, curating, collaborating and creating. Each day focused on one of the “c’s”, and there were daily tweet chats each evening. Lots of us used the flexibility and open-ness of the concept to run face to face sessions (remember them?) in our institutions. It gave a focus to bring people together to share the ways they used technology in their learning and teaching.
It was also a really fantastic way to introduce people to twitter and connect to a ready made learning network. It was exhausting to facilitate but always great fun, and for me, a really positive learning experience. It was also a great incentive for writing blog posts!
Although BYOD4L was largely online, it enabled so many different face to face interactions. It was also predicated on the context that the majority of staff and students were travelling to campus, and so bringing their devices to those physical locations. Students and staff were accessing their “stuff” on the bus/train/car/tube where ever, as well as on campus/in class/in the library/in the refectory etc. But now, we’re all at home (or maybe in halls of residence, or maybe with very limited time on campus), so it’s not so much a case of bringing your own device for learning, rather bringing learning to your own device (BYOD2L instead of BYOD4L). That’s a subtle but important change of emphasis. And of course, access to “your own” device isn’t a given. The last year has certainly highlighted the digital divide around access to devices. Not all students (or teachers) have a laptop/computer/device that they can use, or afford the data allowance to engage with online learning. Having a mobile phone is one thing, but their limitations for learning have been well and truly exposed. We still can’t assume that they everyone has unlimited online access.
Over the last year a huge amount has been done by everyone in terms of moving to online learning and teaching and providing access to equipment and data. Back in the day, there were a core of #BYOD4L-ers who might have been seen as “outsiders” from the norm, as they were interested, and more importantly using technology actively in their learning and teaching and sharing that practice openly.
Looking back a the BYOD4L model, it still holds up. So I wonder if there is an opportunity to revisit it and use it as a way to focus on reflecting on what has happened over the last 10 months and help us focus on what should be our priorities (based on actual practice) for the foreseeable future? Although the event was designed with staff and students in mind, getting students involved was always a challenge and one I never managed to crack. But I think that might be different now, I think that this could provide a focus for student/staff engagement that is relevant to our current context.
This needs a lot more thought, but I’d love to know what you think.
Earlier this summer I was delighted to be asked to contribute to a special feature by Times Higher Education on digital learning. The guide was published last week and includes contributions from a number of international contributors and covers some relevant topics including course design, technology, safeguarding, participation and inclusion. My contribution focuses on where staff can turn to for help in preparing digital learning and teaching.
“Being” at university in the new academic term is going to be very different for both students and staff, and we are all going to have to learn together about what works, where, when and why. Lots of our old assumptions have and continue to be challenged, we all need to adapt.
The good news is that there is lots of support available, from inhouse teams to the wider sharing of practice from communities such as ALT and individuals like Sally Brown and Kay Sambell who have curated a fantastic set of alternative assessment resources.
Another recommendation I make is to become an online student and see things from “the other side”. Again there are lots of options out there, including Creating Courses for Adult Learners, a new course from the Open University which provides a really solid overview of online course design and delivery.
You can access the full guide here ( behind usual THE paywall I’m afraid . . .)
Another week of easing out of lock down and the death toll in the UK as I write is 44,198. There are still over 100 people dying everyday in the UK from COVID-19, this is not over. Lock down restrictions are lifting across the UK and different paces. Non essential shops opened this week in Scotland. I found seeing shops open a heartening sign but to be honest it also made me feel a bit uneasy. From next Friday it will be mandatory to wear face coverings/masks in shops in Scotland. Again, I am fine with that, but I do have worries about the invincibility behaviour some people seem to demonstrate when wearing masks – no need for physical distancing, no need for hand sanitizer, or washing hands.
The death rate in Scotland is now very low, and the impact in divergence of approach from the UK government is becoming more apparent. I just hope that the rush to “get back to normal”, economic factors will be prioritised over health priorities.
As we get back to some sort of normal, I have become quite nostalgic for some of the elements of the early days of lockdown – little or no traffic, saying hello to people you passed as you were out for your daily walk on the canal, and people smiling and saying hello back with that knowing understanding and shared relief of being allowed to be outside for a bit. Not being able to go anywhere, see anyone was easier in some ways easier than working out who and when you can see now . . .
Overall though, this has been quite a good week for me work wise. I gave a keynote at the London Met Teaching and Learning Conference on Tuesday. It built on some of the ideas I presented earlier this year at the GMIT event, particularly around notions of “being and belonging” at university (both physically and digitally) for students and staff. This is going to be quite different as we move forward, and we really need to make sure we are giving our students and staff plenty of time to become confident and comfortable with the spaces and places they will be “be” at university from now on.
The first local lockdown in Leicester this week also highlighted the need for flexibility. Staff and students could be off campus again at very short notice, so we need to be prepared for that and really seriously think about design and refocus on our current context, notions of care, inclusion, accessibility as we expand our notions of curriculum development and day to day delivery.
It’s always nice to get positive feedback from any speaking event, but I was thrilled to get almost instant positive feedback afterwards, and I’m looking forward to speaking with a smaller group of colleagues from there later in the month.
Brilliant start to the LT conference @LondonMetUni fantastic @sheilmcn on the realities of HE staff during lockdown+how we use this time to interrogate what+how we teach in order to advance equity + social justice. One of the most relevant,real+solution based keynotes I’ve heard! https://t.co/LRA7CZQekk
On Friday I was part of a panel in SEDA webinar about the challenges and opportunities facing educational development and learning technology just now. Here’s what I hoped to say. One of my fellow panelists, Teresa McKinnon wrote a really powerful reflection of her experience with a slight tech glitch, and the need for ensuring we care for our students when they are using technology, give them lots of opportunities to build up their confidence and get things wrong and cope with with in low stakes activities before getting them to do high stakes activities. We need to keep reminding ourselves that whilst a lot of us have been having zoom-tactic times over the past few months, not everyone has, and using any kind of technology in an educational context changes everything.
What the future of our new normal will be in education is still up for grabs. I can recommend this paper by Eamon Costello and colleagues, a re-imagining of how things might turn out. I was thrilled to see this published, and also to be given such a lovely acknowledgement – I am seriously considering changed my bio to “Thought-smith Sheila-who-sees-MacNeill“
I feel that the lockdown context is changing too, so this might be the last in this series of posts. Maybe I’ll do a final reflection next week. Until then dear reader, stay safe. I’ll leave you with a song that might be one of my favourites over the past few months.
Last week I took part in the Advance HE Community webinar title, Facing the Future: Higher Education in the era of artificial intelligence. As I was traveling home from Galway, I didn’t want to risk joining the session from the bus. Although I have to say the wifi on the buses in Ireland is pretty good. So instead did a short podcast (having been inspired by my recent experience of the InVinoFab podcast series).
The session was only open to Advance HE members, but I thought I’d share my contribution to the session -which is far less around AI but more about people, critical pedagogy and curriculum.
I’m just settling back into work after my annual summer holiday. I did my very best not to check work email or twitter and to slow down my digital networking activities, and keep any activity purely related to the nicer things in life. But I did have a holiday experience that made me reflect a lot on work and some of the discussions around the Next Generation Learning Environment (NGLE) that have been floating around the twitter/blog-o-spheres recently.
Luckily for me and my not quite full powered brain, Anne Marie Scott has written a really thoughtful blog post about the recent NGLE debate, which highlights a number of concerns I share, particularly around the apparent lack of student involvement in some work, data presumptionism (not sure if that is a word!) and the technocentric stance that seems to be underpinning much of the debate. I urge you to read the post, and have a think about Temporary Autonomous Zones.
But back to my holiday. I spent a week in the Lake District on a painting holiday called Colour Expression with Mixed Media. Now, although this was an informal learning experience there were a number of elements of a learning environment involved.
In terms of an NGLE, it certainly was for my next generation in that the average age on the course was about 75. Whilst I got some amusement from the long lost thrill of being the youngest person in the room, it was an eye opener of the potentially good things I could spend my time doing when I (if I can actually afford to) retire.
The learning space, both in the centre and when we were working en plein air were flexible. We all had to bring our own materials (byod if you like) so that gave another level of personalisation and flexibility. The supporting structures around the course were great – very helpful staff, great food, lovely location, free wifi.
However despite all this I found the experience to be not quite what I had expected. It was in parts quite surreal – a bit like being in an extended Victoria Wood sketch – and in parts quite frustrating. The frustration was caused by a really crucial element in any learning environment – the teacher.
Unfortunately my “teacher” had no understanding of some of the basic elements of what makes a good learning and teaching experience. Although a competent painter, he lacked some basic facilitation and people skills.
He had a great time all week. I’m not sure he even realised that some of us didn’t quite get the same thrill from hearing all about him, all about the gear you “must have”, the (very expensive) paper you need to use (which handily he could sell us at a more reasonable rate) all week that he did. There was no attempt to get us to share experiences, have some fun working together, and don’t even start me about critique and review. . . it was quite amazing and amusing (in the wtf sense) how that all came back to his work.
All of this had a huge impact on my learner experience. I spent much of the week frustrated and that impacted on my work, my confidence and my overall enjoyment of the experience.
However, I did learn a lot about what I don’t want to do in terms of my artistic endeavours and hat I should do some more research on tutors and venues before signing on the dotted line. It also reaffirmed in my head the role of the teacher within any learning environment. In that week I lacked scaffolding, I needed someone with the pedagogical (innate or more learned) knowledge and understanding to encourage and support me, to care about my learning experience, to help me turn my frustrations into something more positive. Someone who could adapt a fairly flexible learning design into a really effective and personsalised experience. There were only 7 of us on the course.
Now I have been around a bit and so have the self regulated learning skills to be able to reflect on this experience and actually turn it into something more positive. But many of our students don’t. It was also only a week of my life and it has given me a whole new range of anecdotes. However it was a salient reminder of the lack of understanding of the art of teaching.
Discussions around the future/next generation learning environments shouldn’t presume that personalised, data driven, adaptive learning is the holy grail for a successful learning experience. Whilst I’m all for interoperable, light weight services being easily available, we can’t forget the need for the teacher; the need ensure that our teaching staff have the time to reflect on their practice, learn how to use some of the new “stuff” that is out there to really make our old, current and next generation learning environments really effective.
I was delighted to join colleagues at Glasgow University yesterday for their Transitions into blended and online learning enhancement themes/BOLD showcase.
The BOLD (blended and online developments) project is an £2.3 million strategic investment by the University to develop its capacity to develop and deliver more blended and fully online programmes. It is also a quite splendid acronym, as Professor Frank Cotton highlighted in his opening address. What University committee can say no to a bold project 🙂
In my keynote I gave an overview of the approaches we have been taking here at GCU to develop our capacity for blended, online and increasingly what we are calling digital learning. We don’t have a dedicated strategic investment programme (just now), so we are taking a much more “ground up” approach.
I could only stay for half of the day but it was great to hear from some of the projects about how they have been developing their programmes. You can also view some of the work in a series of case studies.
It was great to be able to share and learn from colleagues – we are all facing the same issues around time, technologies, digital capabilities, sustainability etc, and I know there are a number of follow up conversations I am going to have as a result of the day. So many thanks to Vicki Dale for asking me to present.